Culture is an elusive and elastic concept. It can lead outside observers, who may not know much about the region, to make missteps when they venture there. Mitt Romney, apart from having recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in contradiction with U.S. official policy that does not -- pending negotiations between the parties -- has held that culture is the reason that the Israelis are so much more developed economically than their neighbors across the Jordan River, the Palestinians. (Not surprisingly, Palestinian public opinion in the occupied West Bank and elsewhere was offended.) The occasion was a breakfast fundraiser at the King David Hotel on 30 July. Said Romney in part, "And as I come here and look out over the city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things." He went on to cite:
- a favorable business climate
- the ability of the Jewish people to thrive under difficult conditions
- "the hand of Providence"
"Providence," is a more vague term than that of God, but the meaning is clear: God has been looking after the fate of the state of Israel. This begs the question of whether Providence can be all things to all peoples and recalls the famous statement contained in Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address. The president, referring to the North and the South, had this observation:
"Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not that we be not judged."
While we can join with Mr. Romney, who comes from a particularist culture himself, in admiring the special qualities of the Jewish people, we need not go as far as to suggest that the "hand of Providence" has brought about the success of the state of Israel... if for no other reason that we just don't know!
Finally, there are some external factors that play in the comparison between these two peoples. Firstly, there is the 45-year-old Israeli occupation of the West Bank (not to speak of the earlier Western-colonial and Ottoman periods), which has served to inhibit the development of Palestinian society. Secondly, one must correlate Israel's laudable economic and technological achievements with the fact of U.S. aid; with purchases by the U.S. military; and with U.S. technological assistance, including joint development of new systems.